Direct Food Contact Antimicrobials Are Generally Regarded As Safe

Direct Food Contact Antimicrobials Blog Direct Food Contact Antimicrobials Blog
Carine Nkemngong
Sr. Scientist-Food Safety Expert
Sep 22, 2022

Simply defined, direct food contact (DFC) antimicrobials are chemistries used in or on food and food packaging. They also include food additives and material preservatives used in food packaging. Overall, DFC antimicrobials are intended to reduce the microbial load in or on foods or food contact surfaces to levels that do not pose health challenges. This article will focus on DFC antimicrobial solutions such as Peracetic acid (PAA) and its use on different foods and packaging.


In the US, DFC products are highly regulated especially after the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was enacted into law on August 3, 19961. The act put forth a new food safety standard; a reasonable certainty that a food will not cause harm. Depending on the intended DFC application, the EPA or the FDA is the mandated registration authority.


A common concern with the use of DFC products are the chemical residues they may leave on foods. Do not be afraid. DFC chemistries are strictly regulated and carefully formulated to include ingredients that are generally regarded as safe and leave no residues. A good example is PAA which is an equilibrium mixture of hydrogen peroxide, PAA, acetic acid and water. Do acetic acid and water ring a bell? I’m sure the scent of vinegar quickly comes to mind. When  diluted in water, PAA breaks down to just three things: water, oxygen and carbon dioxide2. These breakdown products do not fit the definition of a chemical residue as they do not “stick” on the surface of foods. For most DFC applications, the potential risk from chemical residues is further mitigated by using very low active ingredient concentrations.  For example, for PAA use on processed fruits and vegetables, concentrations as low as 20-80 ppm are generally recommended. This is equivalent to a 0.002%-0.008% PAA solution. If you have had concerns about DFC antimicrobials and chemical residues on produce, I hope that this information has set your mind at ease. In fact, DFC chemistries make food safer than it would be without them.


DFC antimicrobials have also found application in food and beverage facilities such as poultry and meat processing plants. Compared to produce, relatively higher DFC concentrations (up to 1,500 ppm of PAA) are used in these processing environments. This is likely linked to the high levels of contamination of these products by a wide variety of foodborne pathogens such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica. Among many others, these microorganisms are naturally a part of the “gut microbiome” of animals being processed for food. Reducing their numbers on raw meat lowers the food safety risk via undercooked meat or cross-contamination in kitchens and restaurants. DFC antimicrobials are typically used in conjunction with a potable water rinse. As a result, DFC antimicrobials are usually composed of water-soluble ingredients. I hope this is comforting because the soluble nature of DFC ingredients facilitates rinsing them off food surfaces, ensuring food products are free from intolerable levels of chemical residues.


Overall, DFC antimicrobials are generally regarded as safe by the regulatory powers that be. For more information on DFC solutions that suit your specific need, please visit to learn more.



  1. U.S Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: Antimicrobial Food Additives. FDA 2018. Accessed May, 2022.
  2. Faith Critzer, Annette Wszelaki. Using Peroxyacetic Acid (PAA) in Fruit and Vegetable Washing and Packing. UT Extension. 2016. Accessed May, 2022.